Tea look matters

The Chinese traditional wisdom has always told me that ‘you cannot judge a person by his/her appearance’ (人不可貌相).

How is the look of a tea associated with its quality

tea leaf shootsI was reading a tea book (one of my earliest tea books) quite some time ago on how to assess the quality of different green teas. Each and every one started from the ‘look’ of a tea – a good tea has to have the right shape. I puzzled for a long time trying to understand how the look of a tea can make it taste better.

A few years later, I visited a family at Dong-Shan (Eastern Hill) of the Tai Lake where the best Bi-Luo-Chun has been historically produced. It all made sense after a day’s visit.

The production of DongTing Bi-Luo-Chun at Dong-Shan is still family based. Of the crops produced each year, they are graded/priced by the strict timing of the harvest – the earlier (of the spring season) a tea is harvested , the better the quality and therefore the higher price. All family members are involved in the tea harvesting, but the priciest tea leaves are only processed by the most experienced family members (the mother and father of the family in this case). The less experienced members only get to practice on the less valuable tea leaves until they become as experienced.

The link between the quality of a tea and its appearance

The link between the quality and the appearance is therefore:

The better the quality of the raw materials -> more likely to have a more experienced/skillful person to process it -> more likely for the end product to have all the right qualities including the appearance.

This is the very reason that the shape of the tea is mentioned frequently in the quality assessment, for example: a Dragon Well green tea has to be yellowish green and tight flat; A Taiwan High mountain rolled Oolong has to be dark green and in tight rolled pearls; A Pu-erh tea cake need to be firm with regular edge etc. 

Other products with the same principle

With time I understand this also applies to other products with high level manual/skill work, such as Yixing Zisha teapots. The experienced Zisha artists will not spend time and effort working on the low quality clay, and the inexperienced ‘starters’ do not often get to work on the premium Zisha clay.

 

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Should teas be blended?

Pure tea vs blended tea, reasons to blend or not to blend

With teas becoming more popular each day, vastly due to the negative health effects of sugar rich beverage consumption and health benefits of tea drinking, teashops are sprouting up daily. The new shops and exiting suppliers are also scrambling to invent ‘exotic new teas’ to attract customers. Blending (or mixing) teas is a quick and easy fix, blending conventional teas with blossoms, fruits or spices.  The question is if it is the right thing to do? Teas are ancient products, invented by the Chinese more than 2000 years ago and categorised into six main categories based on their processing methods. There are many teas within each category, each developed over a long period of time with their unique appearance, taste, production and culture of consumption.  Attempts to ‘modernise’ this product is like trying to modify and polish antique objects. Premium teas, should it be green tea, white tea, Oolong tea or black tea, are rich in their own distinctive aromas, flavours and aftertastes. They are there to be enjoyed, but not covered up. The low quality ones however are different. They are often stile and heavily oxidised (please see the note below), resulting in the teas being bitter with rough texture. These teas are often used in blends for the purpose of ‘face lifting’ in the teas’ native country China where appreciation of quality teas is highly developed.

Note:

Many confuse oxidisation with fermentation – they are very different mechanisms. Black teas are fully fermented, but not necessarily oxidised. Read more about tea quality at: Tea Quality

 

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How to make intelligent choice when purchasing premium teas online

Online business is booming. Valley Green Tea offers hints on how to make intelligent choice when purchasing premium teas online

Interest in premium teas

Interest in premium teas is growing rapidly mainly due to their numerous health benefits discovered during recent years. Many tea consumers are becoming aware that teabags are at the low end of the quality spectrum, while the premium quality teas are simply not to be found on the supermarket shelves. So where to go to find and purchase quality teas?  Online of course, with a few deft clicks. Discerning whether a tea is of premium quality however can be quite a challenge for many. Purchasing online sometimes could be even more a gamble. A few tips to assist tea consumers when considering this shopping option:

Advantages of purchasing online:

  • It is a source of concentrated and relevant information:  Most sites will only display information relevant to the products they supply, but a good website should be a comprehensive source for gathering information about the different tea varieties, their health benefits and instructions for preparation.
  • You are more likely to obtain fresh teas:  Freshness is crucial when it comes to tea quality (except aged teas such as Pu-erh tea).  For example, Valley Green Tea source new season fresh teas directly from the tea farmers in China.  Certain teas are imported to Australia by Air freight and stored under refrigeration when required.  The tea orders are then sent directly to the tea drinkers.  With the absence of lengthy shelf exposure, storage at sub-optimal temperatures and other tea damaging factors, the likelihood of tea remaining fresh and of premium quality is significantly increased.

Pitfalls of purchasing premium teas

There is however a pitfall. Unlike commercial teabags, there is a wide range of quality for each type of loose leaf tea (please visit our Tea Quality page for further info: http://www.valleygreentea.com.au/chinese-tea-quality ).  It therefore offers an opportunity for the more unscrupulous tea merchants to supply low quality teas to fetch a bigger profit margin.

Precautions when purchasing premium teas online

A few precautions you can take in order to help you to avoid potential disappointments are:

  • Request tea samples before purchase, if possible.
  • Find a reputable supplier and stay with it. Like all other businesses, good tea suppliers invest in building their credentials around the quality of their products and services.  Recommendation by someone you know is invaluable, otherwise voluntary online reviews posted by genuine tea consumers also provide excellent indications.
  • If anything appears to be too good to be true, the chances are that it is not true; (unless the arguments are backed by solid evidence such as original research reports).  There have been many false claims and testimonials posted on certain websites during recent years, especially in relation to certain weight loss teas. Terms such as ‘super fat burner’ and ‘secret slimming tea’ have been used to lure those vulnerable people looking for fast track weight loss.  Dealing with these websites can lead to far more than just a disappointing experience.
  • Use a local supplier if possible. When there is a dispute either about the product or the service, dealing with an overseas company becomes almost impossible. 

For those who have only used teabags before, premium loose tea is a completely different experience altogether.

 

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